They are student ministers who offer a weekly ministry to the poor. This time they were asked to spend the day on the road with street people (often less politely termed ‘vagrants’, ‘tramps’, and ‘bergies’). The idea was for each one to ask the permission of a street person to accompany her/him, and to learn from them how they make it through the day. There was an ulterior motive too: to uncover feelings and emotions that are carried inside of these aspirant pastors.
And at the end of the day the stories came tumbling out: of a morning carrying a whole bakkie-load of wood into the pizza oven, to see the R20 pay being pocketed by their street-person supervisor; of doing errands for the neighbourhood, and being rewarded by the steak house owner with a wine bottle filled with beer; of carrying furniture into a block of flats, and then seeing the R50 payment being used to buy a papsak, which was shared by all for lunch. And the understandings that came: that alcohol was a coping mechanism; that those street people walk far more than any of the students; that street people have road-skills that have been honed by many hard days.
But the greatest learning came from the moment they resorted to begging coins. They were hungry and wanted to buy rolls for lunch. They needed 75c each. They discovered that people were more willing to give coins to black people than to white people. And they discovered that many people refused to ‘see’ them. Their worst moment was when a colleague passed them. He is a Pastor of many years experience, and of high social standing. They confidently expected him to assist them. But he walked right past them. They were indignant: “he would not even look at us”!
But then the reluctant acknowledgement: we all are skilled at averting our eyes from people we do not want to see.